Before the Web, we had Scientists and individuals writing long free-formed documents that references other documents, these references are done in form of citations. Now, as a consumer of one of these documents, what you have to do is, read the citation and then send for a copy of the document via mail or you would go to the library. This was pretty tedious, so from the point of view of the consumer, what you had was a world where there were tons of documents all around the world, some were accessible to you, some were not. And it was a lot of burden trying to access the ones not available to you while following the citations.
I think the greatest invention in the Web is the hyperlink, now if I am reading a document that has a hyperlink, I could click on the hyperlink and boom! I get the next document in the chain of documents. Now to a consumer this is amazing, but as a Tech person I know a lot of things were done before these tedious machine layer was abstracted.
The Semantic Web is a layer of the existing Web that is meant to provide software agents with machine-readable definitions of all kind of things and the relationships between them. Its ultimate goal is to enable machines to better manipulate information on our behalf.
In order to achieve this goal, the Semantic Web transcends from a space comprising of linked documents to a space comprising of linked data. This Web of Linked Data is what empowers the creation of a richly interconnected network of machine-processable meaning. In other words, the Web becomes a huge interoperable database or, as its founder sees it, a Giant Global Graph.
So let’s imagine you have this Personal Assistant who has been around you for a while and over this time ‘it’ has been able to observe your likes and dislikes, your schedule, your habits, etc. and has stored these observations as data. You get a call from your Organization to embark on a business trip, first thing you do is inform your imaginary PA about this business trip. It offers to check the weather there, confirm what travel documents you will need and create a sightseeing itinerary for you. You gratefully accept and ask it to also order some pastries from a vending machine at the airport for you to take when you arrive. What happened here falls under the umbrella of three things; Automation of Information retrieval, the internet of things and Personal Assistants.
This demonstrates the ability of Semantic Web to integrate data from disparate sources (weather databases, government information, data about real-world objects as well as behavioural data related to human interactions with them, etc.) and then to automatically manipulate this data so that software agents are able to act on it on your behalf.
The imaginary PA process illustrated involves an extremely important question about trust and how it is embodied in our systems exchanging data. The big scare now is, how do you trust that this your imaginary PA has the ability to give and get permissions only after having received trustworthy signals?
We are all protective of our data. Nobody wants his/her privacy violated. Now, the worst thing that can happen to anyone is have your data in the wrong hands. But I think we can also agree that the abuse of personal information via the World Wide Web can be addressed at political, social and technical levels.